Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
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Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)
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Updated 09 October 2020

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi

Egyptian archaeologists unveil discovery of 59 sealed sarcophagi
  • Old site outside Cairo reveals new treasures: 59 sarcophagi containing mummies unveiled
  • Saqqara is famous for its 5,000-year-old Step pyramid of Djoser and ancient necropolis

SAQQARA, Egypt: Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo.

The mummified remains date back almost 2,500 years, with many more expected to be found in the coming months.

Saqqara, 32 kilometers south of the capital, is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in the 1970s. Part of the necropolis of Egypt’s ancient city of Memphis, it is famous for its 5,000-year-old Step pyramid of Djoser, which has recently undergone a $10 million restoration.

Although there is still much work to be done to identify who was buried there, experts believe the mummies were priests and officials who once sanctified the vast cemetery.




Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)

The discovery of so many sealed sarcophagi — several retaining their original ornate colors despite the long passage of time — is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in decades.

“This discovery will go all over the world because it is the most important discovery that has happened in Egypt in 2020,” Zahi Hawass, the renowned Egyptologist and former Egyptian minister for antiquities affairs, told Arab News on Saturday.

“That moment, I cannot explain to you, it is passion when you discover a mummy for the first time that was sealed for thousands of years. I always say that you never know what the sand of Egypt may hide.”

The site had already yielded some remarkable finds, including limestone and wooden coffins, a huge cat cemetery and a rare collection of mummified scarab beetles. A bronze statue of the god Nefertam and a wooden obelisk decorated with hieroglyphs were also recently uncovered.

“We thought there were only animal mummies, like cats, crocodiles, snakes and lions,” Dr. Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, told Arab News.

His team of archaeologists were stunned when they uncovered the first of the closed coffins from an 11-meter-deep burial shaft.

“I found a big mountain of debris and, in my heart, I felt something and said ‘this is the place that they should start digging,’” Waziri said, recalling his first impressions of the site when he arrived in 2018.

As the team sifted through hundreds of cubic meters of earth, his gut feeling soon proved correct.

“We found the most famous necropolis of the sacred animals, including mummified crocodiles, snakes, scarabs, lion cubs, mongoose and falcons. It was amazing to find hundreds of those mummified animals and birds,” he said.

It was here in 2018 that archaeologists discovered the Tomb of Wahtye from the Old Kingdom’s Fifth Dynasty, which dated back almost 4,400 years.

Wahtye was a high-ranking priest and official who served under King Neferirkare Kakai. His tomb was found to contain breathtaking color reliefs of Wahtye, his wife Weret Ptah, and his mother, Merit Meen.

“We found tombs and shafts everywhere in this area, some dating back to the Late Kingdom and some to the Late Period,” Waziri said.

Then, on Aug. 1 this year, after a mountain of debris almost nine meters high was removed, the archaeologists had a “lovely surprise.”

FASTFACT

Egyptian Tourism

* Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry brought in a record $13.03 billion in 2019.

Waziri said the team found the first shaft almost 12 meters underground containing well-sealed colored coffins, all dating back to the Late Period during the 26th Dynasty, about 2,500 years ago.

Over the centuries, looters and grave-robbers searching for valuables have damaged many burial sites across Egypt, making sealed sarcophagi such as these incredibly rare and valuable to science.

Waziri is especially proud that the latest excavation was led entirely by Egyptians, who were forced to contend with delays and restrictions resulting from the coronavirus lockdowns.




Archaeologists in Egypt have announced one of the most dramatic finds in decades after 59 sealed sarcophagi were uncovered from the ancient necropolis of Saqqara, outside Cairo. (AN Photo/Mohamed Mosaad)

“We are happy that this discovery was made by Egyptian hands and an Egyptian team. They wouldn’t stop, for they love their work,” he said.

Taking to Twitter, Stéphane Romatet, the French ambassador to Egypt, hailed the “extraordinary” discovery of the pristine artefacts. “Long live Egyptology,” he said.

The 59 sarcophagi and their mummified occupants will eventually go on display at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, according to Khaled El-Enany, Egypt’s minister for tourism and antiquities.

The museum had been scheduled to open this year, but had to be pushed back as a result of the pandemic. The global pandemic has dealt a shattering blow to Egypt’s lucrative tourism industry, which brought in a record $13.03 billion in 2019.

“The museum, which will open in 2021, cost $1 billion and will be one of the largest museums in the world dedicated to one civilization,” El-Enany said.

“The site is exceptional, because it is overlooking the Great Pyramid of Giza. It has wonderful architecture, and the whole collection of the Tutankhamun camels will be displayed for the first time with more than 5,000 objects.”

The coming months will see a flurry of activity, with the reopening of the Museum of Royal Chariots in Cairo following years of refurbishment. Museums will also soon open in Sharm El-Sheikh and Kafr El-Sheikh.

One eagerly awaited spectacle is a planned pharaonic procession of 22 royal mummies, which will set off from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square and make its way to their new home at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Fustat.

The Saqqara discovery is only the latest in a series of significant archaeological finds that Egypt has sought to publicize.

“We haven’t had that chance to announce a discovery since March because of the COVID-19 restrictions, but we have battled such conditions and have worked harder since August to dig and uncover more secrets of this great civilization,” El-Anany said on Saturday.

Officials will be counting on renewed interest in Egypt’s antiquities to help boost the tourism sector, which is still recovering from the turmoil that followed the events of 2011.

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Twitter: @NoorNugali


Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
Updated 3 min 2 sec ago

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations

Ennahda chief threatens to mobilize Tunisians for street demonstrations
  • Rached Ghannouchi says President Kais Saied's locking of parliament's doors was a "very serious error"
  • Saied took over executive powers last week "to save Tunisia" as the coronavirus outbreak worsened and economy faltered

TUNIS: Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist-inspired party Ennahda, has warned that “if there is no agreement on the return of parliament, on the formation of a government and its presentation to parliament, the Tunisian street will undoubtedly mobilize.”

Ghannouchi, who is also the parliament speaker, claimed that President Kais Saied had “put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.”

He was speaking after the president froze parliament and took over executive powers, saying he had to save Tunisia, which is suffering from a coronavirus outbreak and a failing economy.

Ghannouchi said: “Since the start, we have called on the people to fight the coup d’etat with all peaceful means, and this resistance will continue with peaceful means.”

Prosecutors in Tunisia have launched an investigation into allegations of illegal foreign campaign funding and anonymous donations to Ennahda.

FASTFACT

Ghannouchi claimed that President Kais Saied had ‘put locks on parliament, a tank at its door, that’s a very serious error to say the least.’

Investigations have also been opened into the national anti-corruption agency — which is itself suspected of corruption — and into the Truth and Dignity Commission created to confront abuses during Tunisia’s decades of autocratic rule.

The probes follow Saied’s dismissal of the prime minister and key Cabinet members, and the 30-day suspension of parliament, which is dominated by Ennahda.

Ghannouchi admitted there had been “mistakes in the economic and social fields, and Ennahda bears a part of the responsibility, which corresponds to the part of power it has held.”

He said the parties in parliament had made the mistake of not managing to establish a constitutional court and that Saied had used the absence of a constitutional court “to monopolize the interpretation of the constitution and to make himself the constitutional court, and that’s an error in which we all bear a part of the responsibility.”

Ghannouchi voiced regret at the lack of dialogue with the presidency. “We are ready to make all concessions so that democracy can return to Tunisia,” he added.

“There is no dialogue today with the president nor with his advisers. But we think we need a national dialogue. We are trying to use all peaceful means — dialogue, negotiations, street pressure, pressure from organizations ... internal and external pressure — to bring back democracy.”


German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 6 min 31 sec ago

German NGO Sea-Watch rescues nearly 100 migrants in Mediterranean

Migrants wait in a boat to be rescued by the crew of the German NGO migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 in international waters off the coast of Libya, in the western Mediterranean Sea, July 30, 2021. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT: German NGO Sea-Watch said on Friday it had rescued nearly 100 migrants in the Mediterranean, many of whom were injured, some with severe “fuel burns” — chemical burns caused by exposure to gasoline mixed with seawater.
Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.
According to the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.
Late on Thursday, the vessel Sea-Watch 3 rescued 33 migrants from two boats which had been intercepted by the Libyan coast guard in the search and rescue zone of the Mediterranean assigned to Malta, the NGO said.
Among them were nine unaccompanied minors, of which three were very small children, and a woman who was seven months pregnant.  The rescued came from South Sudan, Tunisia, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Mali, according to a Reuters witness aboard the Sea-Watch 3.

BACKGROUND

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months with better weather.

Many migrants were already on a coast guard ship but jumped into the sea when they saw the NGO vessel approach, according to the witness. All were brought onboard the Sea-Watch 3 by its crew.
In a second operation at dawn on Friday, Sea-Watch 3 rescued over 60 people from an overcrowded wooden boat within the Libyan search and rescue zone. Most of the rescued were Libyans, the Reuters witness said.
Among the migrants being treated for their injuries on board the Sea-Watch 3 on Friday were a father and son who suffered burns after a fire broke out on their boat, while others suffered fuel burns.
“As it is often the case with such boats, many of the people suffered fuel burns, some of them severe,” Sea-Watch said in a statement.


Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
Updated 26 min 1 sec ago

Qaddafi’s son wants to restore lost unity of Libya

In this file photo taken on August 21, 2008 the son of Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, Seif al-Islam, announces his withdrawal from political life on August 20, 2008, in the town of Sebha, 800 kilometres south of the capital Tripoli. (AFP)
  • It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here. Seif Al-Islam

TRIPOLI: Seif Al-Islam, the son of slain leader Muammer Qaddafi, wants to “restore the lost unity” of Libya after a decade of chaos and does not exclude standing for the presidency.
He spoke in a rare interview, given to the New York Times at an opulent two-story villa inside a gated compound at Zintan in the west of the North African country.
For years, mystery had surrounded the precise whereabouts of a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The 49-year-old, who before 2011 had been seen as his father’s presumed successor, said politicians in the decade since have brought Libyans “nothing but misery.”
“It is time for a return to the past. The country — it’s on its knees ... There’s no money, no security. There’s no life here,” Seif Al-Islam said in his first appearance in years.
After four decades in power, Muammer Qaddafi and his relatives were the target of a popular uprising in 2011.
Three of the dictator’s seven sons were killed, but the fate of Seif Al-Islam was unknown.
He was captured by a Libyan militia in November 2011, days after his father was killed.
Four years later, a Tripoli court sentenced him in absentia to death for crimes committed during the revolt.
The ICC has repeatedly asked for him to be handed over for trial.
Until the interview, Seif Al-Islam had not been seen or heard from since June 2014, when he appeared via video link from Zintan during his trial by the Tripoli court.
Seif Al-Islam said in the interview that he was a free man organizing a political return, and that his former captors “are now my friends.”
He told the paper the militiamen eventually realized he could be a powerful ally.
In recent years, Libya has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign forces and countless militias.
In October, after forces of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) routed those of eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar, the two camps agreed a cease-fire in Geneva.
The security situation has been slowly improving since.
A provisional government was agreed in March, and general elections are expected to take place on December 24.
Any possible return by Seif Al-Islam to Libyan politics would face hurdles, including his conviction by the Tripoli court and the ICC warrant for his arrest.
But the Britain-educated son of Muammer Qaddafi seems undeterred, according to the New York Times.
Seif Al-Islam said “he was confident that these legal issues could be negotiated away if a majority of the Libyan people choose him as their leader.”
The paper quoted him as saying: “I’ve been away from the Libyan people for 10 years. You need to come back slowly, slowly. Like a striptease. You need to play with their minds a little.”
Asked if it felt strange to seek shelter in Libyan homes when he was on the run in 2011, he was as enigmatic as some of the opinions expressed in his late father’s ‘Green Book’.
“We’re like fish, and the Libyan people are like a sea for us,” Seif Al-Islam replied.
“Without them, we die. That’s where we get support. We hide here. We fight here. We get support from there. The Libyan people are our ocean.”


At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
Updated 31 min 15 sec ago

At least four people perish as wildfires sweep Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts

In this image provided by Maxar, a satellite view of smoke rising from wildfires near Oymapinar Dam, southern Turkey, on Thursday July 29, 2021. (AP)
  • More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces o
  • Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help

ANKARA: The death toll from wildfires on Turkey’s southern coast has risen to four and firefighters were battling blazes for the fourth day on Friday after the evacuation of dozens of villages and some hotels.

More than 70 wildfires have broken out this week in provinces on Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coasts as well as inland areas.

At least four people are reported to have died and dozens have been hospitalized.

Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said fires raged on in six provinces and officials promised to bring to account anyone found responsible for starting them.

Villages and some hotels have been evacuated in tourist areas and television footage has shown people fleeing across fields as fires closed in on their homes.

Pakdemirli said fires were still blazing in the Mediterranean resort region of Antalya and the Aegean resort province of Mugla.

“We were hoping to contain some of the fires as of this morning but while we say cautiously that they are improving, we still cannot say they are under control,” he said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Turkey’s civil aviation agency has come under public criticism for its handling of the crisis. 

Although wildfires during summertime are common in Turkey, this year the fires have reached an unprecedented level.

The mayor of the southern resort town of Marmaris blamed “sabotage” for the fires and said an investigation had been launched. A number of buildings and hotels in tourist zones of Marmaris and Bodrum were evacuated after separate fires.

Countries including Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, and Greece have offered emergency help. Three planes, nine drones, 38 helicopters, 680 firefighting vehicles, and more than 4,000 personnel have been deployed to put out the fires.

Turkey has only three planes available to fight forest fires, but all are leased from Russia for 1.3 million liras ($154,350) per day.

Alpay Antmen, a lawmaker from the southern Mersin province and a member of the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), told Arab News: “We have been monitoring the situation on the ground since the beginning. Fortunately, they contained the fire from reaching the settlements. But this tragic case has shown once again the weakness of state apparatus in such emergency situations.”

He, along with other opposition parliamentarians, have been lobbying the Turkish government for a year to upgrade the country’s firefighting capacity.

“Nobody replied to our parliamentary inquiries, and we all witnessed the result of this incapacity. The Turkish president has 13 private planes in his possession, but why couldn’t they buy one single firefighting plane so far?” Antmen said.

Wildfire engulfs a Mediterranean resort region on Turkey's southern coast near the town of Manavgat on July 30, 2021. (AFP)

Wildfires have broken out elsewhere in the region, with more than 40 in Greece in the last 24 hours, fanned by winds and soaring temperatures, authorities said. On Tuesday, a blaze tore through a pine forest north of Athens, damaging more than a dozen homes before it was brought under control.

Tolga Ozbek, general coordinator of the aviation sector website kokpit.aero, told Arab News that Turkey had increased its annual water carrying capacity to 148,000 tons this year from 80,000 tons in 2018.

“Fighting wildfires requires an integrated approach, using different types of planes and helicopters based on the geographical conditions. Turkey has been leasing its firefighting helicopters for the last 35 years. This has turned out to be costlier than buying some,” he said.

He pointed out that Turkey needed a permanent fleet of firefighting planes and should allocate a reasonable budget for such emergency situations.

“Whatever you invest in fighting fires, it always falls short because the fires can erupt anywhere anytime. While formulating specific policies in this regard, one should always consider the implications of global warming and the ongoing drought in the country,” Ozbek added.

Fires also burned large swathes of pine forest in the mountainous north of Lebanon this week, killing at least one firefighter and forcing some residents to flee.

 


UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 30 July 2021

UN hails reopening of Libya coastal road as historical achievement

Libyan security officers stand on a truck during the re-opening of the cross road across the frozen frontline between east and west in Libya. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Road linking the country’s long-divided east and west reopens after the UN demanded the safe passage of civilians and goods
  • Highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture Tripoli 

NEW YORK: After nearly two years of closure, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on Friday welcomed the official reopening of the coastal road linking Libya’s long-divided east and west.

Calling it a landmark and historical achievement, Jan Kubis, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for Libya said, “the opening of the coastal road is a critical step to further the implementation of the cease-fire agreement of Oct. 23, 2020. Equally important, it will allow the free movement of commerce, humanitarian support, and the people of Libya.”

The highway had been closed since April 2019 when eastern commander Khalifa Hifter launched a military campaign to capture the capital of Tripoli from the then Government of National Accord.

Hifter endorsed the reopening of the road along the Mediterranean where a potential resumption of traffic is seen as a crucial step toward peace between the warring parties. 

The highway reopening was an “addition to other significant confidence-building measures achieved thus far, such as the resumption of flights and the exchange of detainees,” Kubis said.

He thanked Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba for the release of salaries for the security forces. Kubis also hailed the role of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the presidency council, and the Government of National Unity for the achievement. 

“It is another step in strengthening peace, security, and stability in the country, and in the unification of its institutions,” Kubis said. 

The special envoy called on Libyan leaders to follow the “exemplary work of the 5+5 JMC” and “set aside their differences and work together to implement the roadmap and hold elections on Dec. 24.”

The highway was reopened following the 11th meeting of the JMC in Sirte.

“The next major step in the ceasefire agreement’s implementation process is to commence the withdrawal of all mercenaries, foreign fighters, and forces from Libya without delay,” Kubis said.

The JMC called on the UNSMIL to convene a meeting with international stakeholders to discuss a plan for the withdrawal. 

The JMC also requested that the deployment of UN ceasefire monitors be expedited. 

The warring parties signed a UN-sponsored cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting in October 2020.